- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 30, 2004

Candy bars, sodas and other sweets in public school vending machines are being replaced with trail mix and other healthy snacks to help students lose weight and live healthier lives.

“We’ve got to address what is happening right now,” said Barbara Adams, a dietitian for the D.C. public school system. “We’ve got a health care system starting to see the diseases once found only in adults appearing earlier; for example, obesity and the health consequences of obesity.”

Schools across the country are serving healthier breakfasts and lunches to comply with recent changes to the Child Nutrition Act that set a July 1, 2006, deadline for systems to draft policies on dietary guidelines for all food and lay out goals for nutrition education and physical activity.

The District and some Maryland and Virginia public school systems have started looking inside vending machines.

Montgomery County is among the 19 such public school systems in Maryland making changes in machines.

Every item sold in the machines during school hours can have no more than 7 fat grams (2 grams saturated) and 15 sugar grams. Beverages cannot exceed 16 ounces, and fruit drinks must be 20 percent to 50 percent juice this school year and at least 50 percent juice next school year. The county has about 190 public schools.

Vendors supplying items such as granola bars instead of candy bars have been very responsive, said Kathy Lazor, director of food and nutrition services for Montgomery County public schools.

Craig Kushner, president of Monumental Vending, said vendors have made changes to accommodate schools, but some of the more nutritious items also are more expensive.

“They are getting a higher-quality product,” said Mr. Kushner, whose company sells to numerous Maryland schools. “You get what you pay for. If they want to eat something now, it is nutritious.”

The county did not return a call yesterday about whether the changes are having an impact of vending machine sales.

Some students are upset about the changes — especially the one that mandates machines with snacks not meeting federal guideline be shut off until after lunch.

The students say “if they are old enough to drive, then they are old enough to choose what to eat,” Miss Lazor said.

The Virginia Board of Education also has stopped the sale of candies and soft drinks in vending machines during meal times. All foods sold from 6 a.m. to the end of lunch periods must be “of sound nutritional value,” officials said.

“We exceed the federal guidelines,” said Charles B. Pyle, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Education.

Noncarbonated water has none of eight essential nutrients but is considered a healthy alternative to soda and can be sold in Virginia schools. However, coffee and tea cannot be sold to students.

About one in five children in the United States is considered overweight, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

“Obese adolescents will most likely remain obese as they age,” said Dr. Andrea Hayes-Jordan, a pediatric surgeon with Holy Cross Hospital and Children’s National Medical Center.

The Agriculture Department made efforts in 1996 to improve school meals by requiring that breakfasts provide one-fourth of a student’s daily nutrient allowance, and that lunches provide one-third.

“Exercise is an important part of children’s health,” said Dr. Hayes-Jordan. “Less than 36 percent of elementary and secondary schools offer daily physical education classes.”

District public school officials said more exercise for students is also part of their healthier-lifestyle plan for students.

The D.C. Board of Education this summer approved the changes to vending machines, following a trend in other major U.S. city school systems.

Miss Adams said the District will implement its plan in two phases, starting with seven schools.

“We have no choice,” Miss Adams said. “We have to have healthier options.”

She said officials are still negotiating with vendors and had no firm date on when the changes to vending machines would begin.

Miss Adams said the upcoming changes are part of a request by school board members to provide “overall healthier eating options” in the District’s roughly 150 schools, not including specialty schools and programs.

“They don’t want to make snacks a substitute for school breakfasts and lunches,” she said. “We’ll give students two things: healthier options and an impact on their behavior. When they leave the buildings, we hope they will either go out and choose [healthier foods] or start to recognize their options. You [affect] behavior by the examples you set.”

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